Another pocket

In the mid to late 1800s, Felix Nadar, a French photographer, experimented with and pioneered the use of artificial lighting in photography. Nadar was the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, born in the 19th century and died in the early 20th century; both birth and death were witnessed by City of Lights where Nadar was also buried, in the Pére Lachaise Cemetery. Not quite as impressive as the recently deceased woman who “lived in three centuries,” but what he lacked in temporality he made up for in technical achievement and inspiration.

Below are a few of Nadar’s portraits that especially captivated me, in large part because in some instances I had concocted completely different images in my mind (eg., Manet) and in other instances, I realized that I had never bothered to imagine a visage for said person (e.g., Rodin). And the ones that render me speechless (e.g., Bernhardt). The portraits evoke in me a deep sense of gratitude for the basic notions of light and dark, and caught in the spaces in between is the very essence of the camera obscura out of which the camera as we know it now was first born; wherein:

“The dark, far from representing a total absence, remains in our photographs like information at rest.”—Cia de Foto (h/t @_firescript)

Claude Debussy, ca. 1908

 

Alexandre Dumas, 1855
Edouard Manet, ca. 1870

Sarah Bernhardt, 1865

For a more complete look at Nadar’s photographic works around the world, goto Felix Nadar Online.

Finding the pockets

Beginnings and ends of semesters are frantic. Middles are not much better. But there are always pockets, and this week was full of the most magnificent pockets — even amidst the height of administrative banality.

Two pockets have to do with teaching, notes of an experience that were foreshadowed unexpectedly several weeks earlier in these tweets by author Teju Cole:teacherunknowing

…and the grace of unplanned and fated encounters.

And a third, an essay by Uwe Schütte about being a student of W. G. Sebald — see “Teaching by Example” that begins on p. 42 of the latest issue of Five Dials magazine. In it, he writes of being a student, learning, being taught, and also of fate. And, a beautiful embrace of the humility of teaching. For instance, of his time with Sebald, the German author who spent most of his adult life in the UK, Schütte writes:

What I learned from him was more than a thing or two about literature. I also learned what it means to be upright and detached in the bonfire of literary as well as academic vanities. And I learned the probably somewhat un-British lesson of speaking one’s mind in situations where it is necessary to do so.

Living by example, really.

humans of kerala

The phenomenon that is HONY has inspired numerous photographic spinoffs — among them, (the occasionally quirky captions of) Humans of Paris, (the close-up portraits of) Souls of San Francisco, (the “still finding its groove”) Humans of London, and several more — even as its own viewer base continues to skyrocket, from fewer than two thousand “likes” on facebook when I first learned of it, to near 177K at last count. A few months before stumbling onto this project, the act of taking photos had started to wiggle its way back into my daily practice after slowly leaving some years back, save for the photography and video work that is central to certain parts of my work. But living photographically involves more than fulfilling the impetus to document or capture. The work of photographers that slips into my subconscious, taking root in often inexplicable ways, reflects a way of being that is fueled by an incurable fervor for story, taking in the world as it is, as it could be, as it might be, as it was, as it wasn’t, as it isn’t… and creating artworks as offerings of humanity back to humans. These are not the musings of someone who has “studied” photography, who has majored/minored/or otherwise degreed in arts, art history, fine arts, or the like. No, these are just the the observations of someone who is continually moved by the work in the world that photographs can sometimes do, sublimating cliched boundaries of allegiance and affiliation in the process.

Take for example the following few photographs, some that come from photographers I’ve long loved, others from recent discoveries — all that fall within a loose categorization of “street photographer.”

1. From a recently published collection of photographs by Gordon Parks in the NYTimes Lens section that depicts everyday life in during the 1950s and 60s in the segregated South. His quotidian narrative is enchanting, educative, and occasionally startling. Sparks, who died in 2006, would have turned 100 this year; the same would have been true of my paternal grandfather who only lived until the age of sixty-four, the same age that my father is now. The world has a strange way of grabbing our attention, much like the intersection of color, beauty, and disbelief that collide in Parks’ photos.

2. Photographs of children also enchant me. Specifically photographs from another time that seem to recognize the hidden world of children (long before they become overexposed due to the ubiquity of image making means) continue to weave stories long after first glance. Consider these four images together:



The first two photographs were made by Diane Arbus and the second two by Roy DeCarava. In both of their bodies of photographic work, I find a resonance toward empathy for “people who have been sidelined in one way or another.”* They hold a sympathetic eye toward the people about whose lives they produce stories of images. It may be appropriate to note at this point that while I came to Arbus somewhat recently or late, depending on your point of view, Roy DeCarava has been a treasured name to me for nearly two decades, which coincidentally is how long I have known my spouse, the very one who gifted me with The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a collaboration between DeCarava and Langston Hughes that features the former’s photographs of life and people in Harlem accompanied by the latter’s poetic prose.

Until then — that is, before I held in my hand the square-shaped book that would become the text to which I would return time and time again to remember, to learn, to practice seeing with curiosity and with humility — I had taken pictures with the enthusiasm of a child who was allowed to ride her bike around the block unsupervised. The experience remained new with each venture, limited by my own abilities, and threatened to take me to unfamiliar places; and because of this, my eagerness only grew. I had made good use of the dented and damaged Leica that was said to belong to my uncle but that had taken up permanent residence, at first, in the hallway closest of my childhood home, and then, mysteriously, onto the desk in my bedroom. This hunk of leather casing and mechanical functionality is what I used in my first photography course, before upgrading (or was it a lateral move?) to a Minolta x700, the starter of all starter SLRs. All the while, as I tinkered with buttons and learned to process film, I realize now in retrospect that I wasn’t practicing seeing. I still wasn’t looking. The best photographs I took during those relatively early years of my practice seemed to happen by accident. I never mastered composition or framing, and paid little attention to exposure and depth of field — although, of the latter I took copious notes. But the accidental shots were taken, well, quite by accident: the light catching a friend’s hair in a way that just missed making her look like a well lit and haloed angel; shadows and reflections of a lake underneath a bridge in Boston Common; and portrait of a woman named Janie who was a member of the administrative staff in the organization where I worked right after graduating from college. All were shot in black and white, with knowing subjects, and without hesitation.

3. There are the photographic creations that can seem otherworldly, palpable in their ethereality, haunting even. Some of my favorites come from photographer and educator Mary Ann Reilly who brings the affordances of digital media tool together with photographic images in an effort to say something else, something other than what the image or the enhancements could say on their own. Two examples:

Green Trees

Climbing

4. And another before sharing a few snaps that fulfill the promise of the title of this post. I have mentioned here before the writings of the author Teju Cole — both his book, Open City, and his twitter stream where he composes small fates about news items, largely about the lives of those who have been somehow wounded, occasionally fatally, in another place, in another time. (He explains it better here and here.) Some time last fall, I think, Cole started a second twitter feed from where his photographically inclined self speaks, shares,  probes and renders true Thoreau’s assertion that “The world is but canvas to our imaginations.” His travels take him to far flung corners of this earth, yet with his image makers, both digital and analog, he produces visual artifacts that demand second, third, and fourth viewings. An early favorite of mine was of a young woman sitting at a counter facing the floor to ceiling windows; what I first saw, however, was a ball gown, a regal air, the beauty of solitude. The light and shadows crafted reality out of illusion, and what I recall of it now are hues of red and black and, for some reason, the presence of blue. The actual image seems to no longer be online on the flickr page, so you’ll have to trust me and hope that the image appears in an upcoming exhibit somewhere… Meanwhile, I’ll share another favorite that needs no explanation:

Steven Pinker in India, January 2012

And a link to a recent snap from Brazil that, like several others in a collection he has labeled “Spectral Tendency,” a set (in flickr terms) that seems to be creating a full bodied experience with each photo. There is much that coaxes your gaze further into the image, inviting you to lean in, breathe deeply, see the relations between the on screen players in new ways. Another image in the same set was taken just steps from the Tate Modern, and as with the boys from Brazil, the spectrum is wide as well as deep; the layers are playfully endless. These photographs, as with some of those above and the work of others who take to the proverbial pavement (I’m thinking here of the work of Zun Lee and the roving Underground NY Public Library photographer, for instance), are artifacts redolent of photo making that strives to banish the fourth wall; in these images, photography feels less like something “to look at” and more so as both portal and realm through and into which enters, temporarily shedding the immediate present for the possible present. Photographers — those who live photographically — have been, have become, and continue to be my strongest teachers, for they deal in the currency of seeing.

***

For the past few weeks, with each upload of a new batch of photos to my laptop — itself a version of Christmas morning that foretells of gifts and secret wonders that will soon be revealed — my eyes keep traveling back to the India folder that contains the photos I took during my trip to Kerala earlier this year. They feel different, somehow apart from the other thousands I’ve taken in the past twelve months. Sure, the landscape is unlike that of my other travels, but so is the perspective, the angles, the subject matter. The people. In some of the villages we visited, I was not just photographing daily life, but I became a part of the story. In taking photos, I was also implicitly agreeing to share the photos with the people who were photographed. My last Kerala travelogue will be posted soon, and yes, it will be six months late — so for that reason, I share these photos here, unvarnished, without commentary or further context, save to say that in these images, I feel as if I finally started to see. Each photo suggests a plurality of stories, that is true. But it is the stories that brought them into existence that play on the tiny screen in my mind’s eye when I look at them.

*
*Sebald once said in an interview: “I like to listen to people who have been sidelined in one way or another,” referring to the cone of silence following World War 2. He seemed to understand at an embodied level that stories were lurking everywhere, some that needed little prodding and others that were more reticent to emerge. What has been profoundly humbling has been consistent encounters with the lives of people — in their homes, their places of worship and work, sharing the streets and modes of transportation, sharing a meal. Sebald, too, placed himself in these spaces, listening as he did with both heart and ear; that’s not meant to over sentimentalize the man, but rather to call attention to his studied practice of attending, particular to wounds that may have been heavily scarred over, barely noticeable in some cases, utterly raw in others. He was, as Cole has described, a poet of the disregarded.

Saturation — sabbatical as pilgrimage, part 1

A dry sponge has a limit to how much liquid it can hold, after which point it oozes out more than it soaks up thus rendering it, effectively, no longer worthy of its name: sponge. That moment, just before the hand instinctively forms a fist around the porous thing (is it even an object?) to relieve it of its liquid burden, is the apex for a sponge, the height of its reason for being. For it to have a place of use once again within and amidst everyday activity — for it to have purpose rather than exist as an impending chore — the sponge must be relieved of its contents, even just a little bit will do the trick. Last Monday night I reached this point of saturation wherein the extreme degree of porosity with which I started out on this journey just a year earlier — at which point, I felt literally squeezed dry having purged myself of every last word and interesting idea, and thus desperate to see and be taken in by the world again — was no longer discernable. The moment came when I found myself standing in a churchyard cemetery in Framingham Earl in front of the modest, neatly engraved headstone of W.G. Sebald.

There aren’t many people I know who could comprehend why this piece of the journey was vital. I’m not even sure I fully understand why I found my way there, why not completing this leg of what has been an extended pilgrimage of and for the dead was not an option. Nearly breathless after sprinting the last hundred or so yards of the mile-long stretch of gravely, dusty pavement that connected Loddon Road with the smaller country road on which St. Andrews sits, I stood still, somewhat bewildered and fully spent. That is to say that breath and words had escaped my person simultaneously, leaving me effectively paralyzed. How did I get there?

… is what I wondered, first to myself and then with a friend via short bursts of tweet-like direct messages through Twitter. Too quickly did I fall, willingly, into a life without obligations — or at least somewhat free from the daily urgencies that demand attention and care. It was early into this walk back into living that I thought about Sebald, particularly fitting as I had just completed an intense reading study of his works. How did he walk, I started to wonder. Aimlessly? With a small pack? A satchel like the titular character in Austerlitz? Was his pace brisk or studied? How far could he move without being overcome by the weight of what he saw and the scenes he passed? Did he enter into every church that crossed his path? Take notice of every stranger? Make a note of each plastic wrapped bale of hay or abandoned carriage along the side of the road? What did he make of things? What must the rest of us, all too willing to overlook or not see at all, actively notice with sharper focus?

A man, whose words caused me to sit up straight the very first time I read them, whose life had come to an end much too soon and not too far from where I was standing, had been placed at rest in the earth beneath my feet. To say the feeling was strange would be an inadequate description at best. So I will turn to Sebald, himself, who so aptly notes in The Emigrants: “And so they are ever returning to us, the dead.” He offers witness to devastating events in history by bringing forward their everydayness, their connective tissue that dissolves the gap of time between then and now, placing us — the readers, the audience — squarely in the midst of the action. It is in this way that a walk transformed into a narrated history of post-industrial devastation and isolation, or how portraits of eccentric characters and their seemingly ordinary concerns — polishing boots, a caretaker preparing meals, parents  wishing their children well before a long journey — are in fact tightly woven layers of narrative that hold in them some of the cruelest moments in human history. With patience, Sebald braids together words into prose that unfolds in the form of stories that linger just long enough to be grasped, albeit temporarily, before dissipating once again and thus allowing the unfathomable nature of the lives of others to recede into our near distant memories. We are reminded by him, through his writing, about the passing of time: “The most disconcerting part of it, perhaps, is that life nonetheless always goes on, somehow or other.

And so it was in Norwich, as it was in Kalpathi and Perinkulam, and Amsterdam and London, Nicosia and Paris — with each step a reminder of lives lived, too soon forgotten. And while ’tis true that I set out to seek a rebirth, a re-beginning, a chance to see anew, to reset some things, it was a walk across lands and back into and out of other times that I was taking. A pilgrimage in the footsteps of the dead, returning to the places of significance for those whose lives have left deep imprints in mine. This has been a walk around the world that has been animated with the stories of the once-alive.

That time has come. The flat’s been hoovered, the fridge cleaned out, last of the laundry finished, and bags zippered and ready for transport and I have settled into the sofa once more to compose a final London note. The hour is quite late but slumber is far from my mind, which is filled instead with a fondness for this town, this piece of land designated as nation for what it has allowed me to consider about home(s), belonging, and what we do between beginnings and endings. What stands to greet me upon my return is unimaginable heat and excruciating humidity, and a reminder that while we may carry the lessons with us, actual pilgrimages must come to an end. For the moment, anyway, this sojourner still has earthly commitments that need tending. Now, being fully saturated with stories, with experience, with words and images, the itch to craft and compose artifacts to put back in the world is slowly returning. And so, the slow squeeze begins…

“We only know that to live is to live for.”

Much in the same way that the writings of Transtromer and Calvino found their way onto the dashboard of my mind’s eye, so, too, have the words of Paz once again surfaced and made themselves known. This time, they were delivered via a single tweet and seemingly unrelated (although who am I to say with certainty?) email. Below is the last poem Paz published before his death, whose words sing with a kindred beckoning. It’s hard to know why some arrangements of words formed from letters can speak to hidden parts of one’s being, while others never will. (And why the same words will never really be the same each time we read them.) And why so many of the word arrangements I have encountered these past twelve months, which have invited my mental meanderings to alight for a time, have been penned by men and so few by women; this is not a totalizing statement, just an observation of one person’s readings of late. One wonders, therefore, how the temporal, social, cultural structures of daily life can catalyze or inhibit the sort of commitment — that is, a detachment from quotidian concerns of the administrative nature — that allows someone to remain authorialy suspended in a state of magical realism; or, put more plainly, to whom does life accord the gift of time?

June Jordan, during a reading and discussion at the Kelley Writers House in Philadelphia many years ago, stated that writing of possibility was a luxury that writers like she, who wrote out of urgency, do not have. I am horribly misquoting, of course, but it is a sentiment — the tension between urgency and, by implication, patience — that has stayed with me for over a decade. That’s not to say, of course, that urgent writing is free from possibility, nor that Jordan’s writings, which are full of magic and realism, are merely journalism-turned-poetic prose. [This is one of those times when I realize I’ve gone down a rhetorical garden path and I’m not quite sure of the route that will lead me out. Thus, I will segue inelegantly.]

Perhaps it is also worth noting here that the references to the male writers who have marked the passing of this year — Transtromer, Calvino, & Paz as well as Sebald, Cole, Ondaatje, & Berger, and let’s not forget Borges and Marquez — largely came from men, themselves. I’m not sure why or whether this matters. Nor am I overly concerned that this means anything more than in the cradle of their words and the worlds they conjure is where I am resting for now. Specifically, I find myself facing the few pages that remain to be read in Disgrace by J.M Coetzee and once again I am resisting reading them; the end, of the book and, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, of this time abroad, is near.

A recommendation: Take the time to read through Paz’s poem (below) and, if you will, allow yourself to read it out loud, as a whisper or a shout or something in between.

Response and Reconciliation
Octavio Paz

Ah life! Does no one answer?
His words rolled, bolts of lightning etched
in years that were boulders and now are mist.
Life never answers.
It has no ears and doesn’t hear us;
it doesn’t speak, it has no tongue.
It neither goes nor stays:
we are the ones who speak,
the ones who go,
while we hear from echo to echo, year to year,
our words rolling through a tunnel with no end.
That which we call life
hears itself within us, speaks with our tongues,
and through us, knows itself.
As we portray it, we become its mirror, we invent it.
An invention of an invention: it creates us
without knowing what it has created,
we are an accident that thinks.
It is a creature of reflections
we create by thinking,
and it hurls into fictitious abysses.
The depths, the transparencies
where it floats or sinks: not life, its idea.
It is always on the other side and is always other,
has a thousand bodies and none,
never moves and never stops,
it is born to die, and is born at death.
Is life immortal? Don’t ask life,
for it doesn’t even know what life is.
We are the ones who know
that one day it too must die and return
to the beginning, the inertia of the origin.
The end of yesterday, today, and tomorrow,
the dissipation of time
and of nothing, its opposite.
Then–will there be a then?
will the primogenious spark light
the matrix of the worlds,
a perpetual re-beginning of a senseless whirling?
No one answers, no one knows.
We only know that to live is to live for.

II
Sudden spring, a girl who wakes
on a green bed guarded by thorns;
tree of noon, heavy with oranges:
your tiny suns, fruits of cool fire,
summer gathers them in transparent baskets;
the fall is severe, its cold light
sharpens its knife against the red maples;
Januaries and Februaries: their beards are ice,
and their eyes sapphires that April liquefies,
the wave that rises, the wave that stretches out,
appearances-disappearances
on the circular road of the year
All that we see, all that we forget,
the harp of the rain, the inscription of the lightning,
the hurried thoughts, reflections turned to birds,
the doubts of the path as it meanders,
the wailing of the wind
as it carves the faces of the mountains,
the moon on tiptoe over the lake,
the breezes in gardens, the throbbing of night,
the camps of stars on the burnt field,
the battle of reflections on the white salt flats,
the fountain and its monologue,
the held breath of outstretched night
and the river that entwines it, the pine under the evening star
and the waves, instant statues, on the sea,
the flock of clouds that the wind herds
through drowsy valleys, the peaks, the chasms,
time turned to rock, frozen eras,
time maker of roses and plutonium,
time that makes as it razes.
The ant, the elephant, the spider, and the sheep,
our strange world of terrestrial creatures
that are born, eat, kill, sleep, play, couple,
and somehow know that they die;
our world of humanity, far and near,
the animal with eyes in its hands
that tunnels through the past and examines the future,
with its histories and uncertainties,
the ecstasy of the saint, the sophisms of the evil,
the elation of lovers, their meetings, their contentions,
the insomnia of the old man counting his mistakes,
the criminal and the just, a double enigma,
the Father of the People, his crematory parks,
his forests of gallows and obelisks of skulls,
the victorious and the defeated,
the long sufferings and the one happy moment,
the builder of houses and the one who destroys them,
this paper where I write, letter by letter,
which you glance at with distracted eyes,
all of them and all of it, all
is the work of time that begins and ends.

III
From birth to death time surrounds us
with its intangible walls.
We fall with the centuries, the years, the minutes.
Is time only a falling, only a wall?
For a moment, sometimes, we see
–not with our eyes but with our thoughts–
time resting in a pause.
The world half-opens and we glimpse
the immaculate kingdom,
the pure forms, presences
unmoving, floating
on the hour, a river stopped:
truth, beauty, numbers, ideas
–and goodness, a word buried
in our century.
A moment without weight or duration,
a moment outside the moment:
thought sees, our eyes think.
Triangles, cubes, the sphere, the pyramid
and the other geometrical figures
thought and drawn by mortal eyes
but which have been here since the beginning,
are, still legible, the world, its secret writing,
the reason and the origin of the turning of things,
the axis of the changes, the unsupported pivot
that rests on itself, a reality without a shadow.
The poem, the piece of music, the theorem,
unpolluted presences born from the void,
are delicate structures
built over an abyss:
infinities fit into their finite forms,
and chaos too is ruled by their hidden symmetry.
Because we know it, we are not an accident:
chance, redeemed, returns to order.
Tied to the earth and to time,
a light and weightless ether,
thought supports the worlds and their weight,
whirlwinds of suns turned
into a handful of signs
on a random piece of paper.
Wheeling swarms
of transparent evidence
where the eyes of understanding
drink a water simple as water.
The universe rhymes with itself,
it unfolds and is two and is many
without ceasing to be one.
Motion, a river that runs endlessly
with open eyes through the countries of vertigo
–there is no above nor below, what is near is far–
returns to itself
–without returning, now turned
into a fountain of stillness.
Tree of blood, man feels, thinks, flowers,
and bears strange fruits: words.
What is thought and what is felt entwine,
we touch ideas: they are bodies and they are numbers.
And while I say what I say
time and space fall dizzyingly,
restlessly. They fall in themselves.
Man and the galaxy return to silence.
Does it matter? Yes–but it doesn’t matter:
we know that silence is music and that
we are a chord in this concert.

cities and books and a few more looks

The concept of “stumbling-upon” is ever alive and well. Most recently, while visiting the author Teju Cole’s facebook page to locate a link to one of his recent audio interviews (in which he talks about his latest small fates project — Simple Tweets of Fate on NPR), a link that someone had posted as a response caught my eye: Paris, I Love You: 10 Books Starring Cities, compiled and written by Emily Temple. Among the titles were Cole’s Open City as well as:

Thus, my list grows by yet another few titles. Is sabbatical really only a year long? (she says, knowing full well that such a sentiment can bring about more than a few eye rolls…)

Twitter, too, did not disappoint and while the original tweet failed to catch my eye, I was endlessly pleased to find my way to The Atlantic Monthly’s most recent photo essay — a response to reader-suggested photo requests; a sort of media treasure hunt. A few that caught my eye for how they surprise as well as cajole the viewer into wanting to know more (click for larger views of the pics):

Here, pedestrians on London Bridge watch boats and barges being unloaded, in the Pool of London, on the River Thames, on April 20, 1929. (AP Photo)
"Hemingway doing something badass." American author Ernest Hemingway, who, at the time, was a reporter and paramilitary aide in the liberation of France from German occupation in World War II, is shown wearing boxing gear in July 1944. (AP Photo)
The Space Shuttles Enterprise rides atop a NASA modified 747 plane over the Statue of Liberty in New York April 27, 2012. The Space Shuttle Enterprise officially arrives in New York to be placed at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. (Reuters/Brendan McDermid)
Photo of Ishwori Sapkota, as she arranges books at her book store in Kathmandu, on December 18, 2011. She has been selling and buying second hand books for the past eighteen years. (Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar)

To these fantastic images, I’ll add a few of my own that detail some of my literal, city-wide and city-dwelling stumbling-upons during last week’s very arty-cultural happenings in Philly (thanks, in part, to the lovely e! — more on that to come).

Two installations I hadn’t seen before:

1. A collection of photographs and quotes and poetic musings that line the concrete walls underneath the bridge on 22nd Street.

Photography and Poetry exhibit on 22nd Street
Photography and Poetry exhibit on 22nd Street

2. Another Mural Arts Program masterpiece — this one caught my eye for its mixed media/mixed genre effect.

Building wall mural
(Mural Arts Program)
Building wall mural - close-up
(Mural Arts Program)
Building wall mural - spillover onto adjacent wall
(Mural Arts Program)

A few more stumblings from recent weeks to come your way soon…

Little Edens

There is something grand about the looks on people’s faces when they walk into a bookstore. Many stop talking, if only for an instant, to take in the surroundings. Some slow their gait, allowing their eyes and sometimes fingers to linger over covers and spines. Lining every surface is a reminder that countless others are also thinking, talking, and making their way in the world through language, many languages. What have captivated me the most in my recent travels into and out of bookstores are the book displays. Stacks and stacks of pages and pages clustered adjacently, in varying heights to reflect the books’ differences in thickness. To see words penned in 2004 alongside those that first saw light a hundred years prior, sometimes more — this is nothing short of a feast for the eyes and a playground for the mind.

I initially started photographing displays at instances when I encountered the book “Open City,” which for many reasons I have developed a deep affection for; I was intrigued at first by the phenomenon that sometimes occurs when the world is suddenly replete with the thing that is in your head in that moment — kindred spirits who also eat on the run, the use of quotes by Rilke in the most unlikely of (pop culture) places, purple sneakers. But then I began to take notice of how Cole’s book was situated alongside other books, sometimes next to other best sellers, other times near its temporal contemporaries. The visual landscapes of book displays suddenly became fascinating and as I looked each time I was in a new bookstore, my anticipation grew: who would I find sitting next to whom today? Edges of books were put together, perhaps intentionally or perhaps haphazardly, in arrangements that suggested new connections, called up past textual memories, invited interpretive reconsiderations. The collage is a sampling of these displays, each its own corner of paradise.